With songs, prayer and sweet treats, students ushered in the Jewish new year at their campus Hillels across the country. At a time usually associated with family gatherings, Hillel helped students away from home celebrate with religious services and holiday meals.
"Hillel tries to provide a home-like atmosphere for the Jewish student community," said Jessie Mallor, the Jewish student life coordinator at Indiana University Hillel. "Your first year on a huge campus, it's important for people to be able to have access to religious services that they're accustomed to at home."
University of Iowa Hillel Executive Director Gerald Sorokin agrees that spending the High Holidays away from family can be hard for students. To combat homesickness, Iowa Hillel has sponsored a Rosh Hashanah dinner for years to bring the taste of mom's cooking to campus.
"We try to provide an atmosphere that is celebratory and that is encouraging," Sorokin said.
High Holiday services, which are often planned and led by students, aim to make everyone feel comfortable, regardless of their background and traditions. Students who find it difficult to miss classes are welcome to join in the festivities when their schedules allow.
"Everyone wrestles with that choice and makes it in a different way, and Hillel is really open who comes to participate for however much time they have," said Richard Green, an adjunct professor at Arizona State University who has led High Holiday services at ASU Hillel since 1980.
The High Holidays also offer Jewish students an opportunity to share their heritage with their non-Jewish peers. For example, University of Texas Hillel students invited Lutheran and Baptist students at their Austin campus to join them for Rosh Hashanah services. Hillel doors are open to community members as well.
At the beginning of a busy new semester, the High Holidays give students a chance to slow down and reflect on the events of the past year. Though most do not make formal resolutions, as many people do in January, students take the time to think about how they can improve in the coming year.
"It's not just to ask for forgiveness, but also celebrate what we have done right -- actually feel good about ourselves," said Tuvia Abramson, executive director of Penn State Hillel.